Saturday, January 9, 2016

What is Contentment Anyway?

Some of us are born content,
others have to work at it.
For 2016, I'm undertaking a Contentment Project.  I've identified specific areas in my life I want to improve, such as health, fitness, loving relationships, etc. 

This week it occurred to me, what is contentment anyway, what does that look like, and should I be even concerning myself with a self-centered focus?

A dictionary definition of contentment says, "the state of being happy and satisfied..."

Sounds good to me, most people like to be happy and satisfied.  Could be a little bit shallow, though.

Since we are created beings, I decided to think take a look at what the Creator has to say about contentment.  Where do the words "content," "contentment," etc. appear in the Bible (using the English Standard Version) and what could I learn from those examples?

John the Baptist

The first instance I found is just before Jesus begins his public ministry of teaching and healing.  In anticipation of that, God sends an individual we call John the Baptist.  His role is to call people to righteous behavior through preaching, then calling for a response by baptizing them:
Luke 3:14 - Soldiers also asked him (John), "And we, what shall we do?"  And he said to them, "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be content with your wages."
God expects upright conduct from his people.

What that tells me is that the foundation of contentment includes doing what I am called to do in a morally right manner.

The Apostle Paul in a fallen world

Later, after Jesus concludes his public ministry by being raised from the dead and ascending into heaven, he sends the Apostle Paul to be his predominant messenger in the first century.  When writing to the church in the Greek city of Corinth, he says:
2 Corinthians 12:10 - For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecution, and calamities.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.
And to the church in the Greek city of Phillipi, he says:
Philippians 4:11-13 - Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.  In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Life is full of difficulties.  For Paul, the setting of his difficulties included proclaiming the good news of Jesus in a 1st century culture where most people didn't want to hear it.  For me, I create a lot of my own difficulties by falling short of where I'd like to be.  In addition, leading a family in a fallen world getting more and more hostile to the things of God is getting more and more difficult.

Paul, though,  through his example shows that contentment includes living amid life's difficulties by trusting God in such a way that I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

The Apostle Paul emphasizing truth over falsehood

In writing to a young minister, Paul says to Timothy:
1 Timothy 6:3-8 - If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing.  He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.  Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the worlds, and we cannot take anything out of the world.  But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.
True teaching correlates with godliness, There also seems to be a link between false teaching discontentness that tempts us to greed.  Think about false prosperity preachers with their big churches, big homes, and extravagant lifestyles.  Pursuing God isn't a means to pursuing excess wealth, but pursuing God for his own sake leads to contentment.

So, pursue God and his truth for his sake, not necessarily for the goodies he could provide.

There is a balance, though, because God alone is the provider of all good things:
Hebrews 13:5 - Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, " I will never leave you nor forsake you.  So we can confidently say, (quoting Psalm 118:6) The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?"
and one of my favorite Bible verses of the Old Testament:
Proverbs 30:7-9 - Two things I ask of you;
deny them no to me before I die;
Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that is needful for me,
lest I be full and deny you and say, "Who is the LORD?"
or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.
So, trust God for provision, and at the same time don't be discontent if my definition of provision is different than God's.

To summarize, then,

pursuing contentment must include upright conduct, embracing truth and rejecting falsehood, accepting God's provisions of blessings and trials, and sharing God's love with those who would listen.

Next week:  How is my Contentment Project doing a half month into the new year?

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